How you can make the most of travel loyalty programs

Loyalty programs can get very confusing.  They require a lot of focus to make sure they work for you and the way you like to travel.  From credit cards, to frequent flier programs, hotel points, and so much more, it’s important to understand how to make the most of them. Going through your past travel […]

Life + Leisure Travel and Getaways Lyle Truden

Loyalty programs can get very confusing.  They require a lot of focus to make sure they work for you and the way you like to travel.  From credit cards, to frequent flier programs, hotel points, and so much more, it’s important to understand how to make the most of them. Going through your past travel is a nice trip down memory lane but it can also help sort out what type of traveler you are.  Here are some great tips and advice to help you figure out which loyalty programs you should sign up for.

A group of friends at Tower Bridge in London, England.

Airline programs

Where you have travelled in the past and what is on your travel bucket list can help determine which airline program to sign up for.

There are three major global airline alliances: Star Alliance (Air Canada, United, Lufthansa, etc.), Sky Team (Delta, KLM, Air France), and One World (American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific). When booking airfare, book using the same alliance group every time. A code share is a flight that is marketed by one carrier in an alliance group, but it is operated by another airline in the same alliance group. The benefit of code sharing is that you can use one airline points program, allowing you to accumulate points towards one program, instead of collecting points across multiple carriers. Plus you can also travel to more destinations around the world. Earn enough points and you can gain levels of status that provide frequent traveler benefits.

It is a good idea to sign up with one airline from each airline alliance so you can always collect points.  Pick an airline that has flights to a lot of destinations from your city. You can easily check this out on most airport websites on the departure or arrivals page.  If you are in a city where there are a lot of flights with multiple carriers on the same alliance you will have to compare the two for which is the most appealing.  Make sure the points collect fast enough for how much you travel, if they have blackout dates, or the points expire. Be aware that there are new, basic economy bare bones cheap fares that do not allow you to collect any points. Paying a bit more will allow you to earn more points faster, select seats, and check baggage.

How you can make the most of travel loyalty programs

Hotel programs

To determine which hotel program is right for you, consider where you have stayed in the past, and which hotels you prefer to stay at.

Most of the major hotel chains have loyalty programs that can add up very quickly to free room nights and upgrades. This may limit you staying at unique properties or LGBT-friendly hotels, but it is the best way to get rewards.  Like airlines, there are major hotel groups, including IHG (Kimpton, Holiday Inn, Intercontinental, etc.), Marriott (Marriott, Starwood, Weston, Sheraton, etc.), and AccorHotels (Fairmont, Sofitel, Ibis, etc.), where you can book hotels anywhere in the world, within your budget, and collect points on all of them.

Any of these chains have hotels globally that you can book.  One thing to keep in mind is a lot of wholesale rates on third party websites don’t allow you to collect points. If you book through these discount sites it usually means no points will be accrued. Remember, your goal is to collect as many points as possible to get free room nights and upgrades to you can travel more, for less.

Credit card programs

Flip through your wallet. The credit card you use can help you earn valuable points towards travel.

Some cards collect points that can be redeemed through a portal directly with the card company for travel.  These cards tend to gain points faster and have a higher value towards travel then others; however, they can come with strict restrictions. The card company will have partnerships with specific airlines and hotels, which can limit your travel options or your trip.  These programs often come with blackout dates for peak travel periods including long weekends and holidays.  These cards are great for people with a lot of flexibility and who want to earn more trips, faster.

Other cards are connected directly to an airline points system. These programs tend to accrue points quickly. They are linked to a specific airline and can be used in conjunction with points earned through the points collected.  These can equal free flights very quickly.  They do have the same limitations of blackout dates, and restrictions of the types of things you can book.

Finally, there are cards that accrue a points value that you can redeem directly as a cash payment to your credit card. You book a trip using your card and call the credit card company to have them apply the points to pay off that trip right away.  This offers the most flexibility. You can book airfare, hotels, rental cars and more with your preferred brands. Typically, these points do not add up as quickly .

Stack of credit cards

Travel like a pro

Ultimately travel is like any good relationship: the more time you put in, the better the relationship comes. When booking travel, it is best to check if they have a loyalty program and who they are associated with.  Find companies you like to deal with and stick with them to maximize your perks. Use these tips and you can be earning upgrades and free travel in no time!

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